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Missouri House delays vote on workplace discrimination bill

Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications
Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin.

It seemed like a done deal: The Missouri House would send the governor a bill Thursday that would make it harder to prove discrimination when a person is fired. But Republican leaders called off the vote — for varying reasons.

Republican Rep. Joe Don McGaugh of Carrollton said it was because about 20 lawmakers weren’t there. Some of them had gone to Moberly to meet new federal Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt.

“We’ve got several members who are ill and out of the building and things, so we just wanted to wait to talk about it,” he said. “I mean, it’s an important issue.”

But Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, suggested there’s a growing amount of opposition in his party due to abortion-related language in Senate Bill 43, although he didn’t know how close the numbers were.

“We discussed the matter, of course,” White said. “I think I made some points that are causing people to think a little bit about it and rethink their positions on the bill. I think there’s a lot of people that are going to be very interested in hearing the debate on the floor, and maybe making up their minds after the debate.”

The bill would require a person prove his or her race, sex, age or national origin was the main reason for the firing, instead of just a contributing factor.

Credit Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton.

Two recent amendments turned off White and others. One would allow workers to sue only the company that fired them and not the person accused of discriminatory behavior. Another would let employers fire hospital workers who refuse to assist in abortions.

“It was sloppy drafting on that part,” he said.

Supporters argue the bill itself will protect business owners from frivolous lawsuits and still meet federal standards for discrimination protection. But Democrats say it would weaken protections for minorities, women and older workers.

NAACP state chapter president, Nimrod Chapel, who has spoken out against the bill several times, has said the measure would re-institute racial discrimination in Missouri. In a statement Thursday, Chapel suggested the measure be renamed “Romine’s Jim Crow Bill.”

That’s a reference to the bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Gary Romine of Farmington. Chapel and members of the Legislative Black Caucus have accused Romine of filing the measure because the business he owns is the target of a racial discrimination lawsuit. Romine has denied any wrongdoing in the suit.

There’s no grandfather clause in the bill, so it wouldn’t affect the lawsuit’s outcome.

It’s not clear whether Gov. Eric Greitens would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.